Hamish Fletcher

Hamish Fletcher is a business reporter for the NZ Herald

Capital + Merchant directors jailed

(L to R) Capital and Merchant Finance director Wayne Douglas, director Neal Nicholls and former CEO Owen Tallentire in the dock at Auckland High Court this morning. Photo / Sarah Ivey
(L to R) Capital and Merchant Finance director Wayne Douglas, director Neal Nicholls and former CEO Owen Tallentire in the dock at Auckland High Court this morning. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Two former Capital + Merchant Finance directors have been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, and another director has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Wayne Leslie Douglas, Neal Medhurst Nicholls and Owen Francis Tallentire faced numerous Crimes Act charges arising out of the affairs and demise of Capital + Merchant (C+M) and in July were found guilty on charges for theft by a person in a special relationship.

The Serious Fraud Office, which brought the case, said the accused knowingly used investor funds in ways that breached Capital + Merchant's trust deed and dubbed the matter one of the most important commercial theft case in recent years.

Douglas, Nicholls and Tallentire jointly faced three charges over three different loans C+M advanced between 2004 and 2006 totalling almost $20 million.

Douglas and Nicholls were found guilty on all three counts in July, while Tallentire was found guilty on two and acquitted of the other.

Justice Ed Wylie this afternoon sentenced Nicholls and Douglas to a total of seven years and a half years in prison and Tallentire to five.

Justice Wylie said the directors were "motivated by self interest" when entering into the offending transactions.

"The offending was sophisticated. It was not spur of the moment opportunism," he said.

"Each of the offenders was driven by self interest and greed."

Reading from victim impact statements, the judge said some C+M investors had lost their life savings and experienced significant anguish since the finance company had collapsed.

"The impact on them and their families has been far reaching and dramatic," Justice Wylie said.

Crown prosecutor Nicholas Davidson QC said during submissions this morning that the directors' conduct was "top-end offending" and pushed for a starting point of seven years in jail for Tallentire and nine or 10 years for Nicholls and Douglas if sentences were imposed cumulatively.

If not, he pushed for a starting point of near seven years, which is the maximum term of imprisonment that can be imposed with charges of this kind.

"These weren't instances of getting close to the mark and missing in terms of (the directors') obligations but of wholesale disregard for the investors money in favour of the offenders' personal interests," Davidson said.

"The penny has to drop, we're not talking about money being lost by the risk associated with investment in the ordinary course (of business)," he said.

Davidson said the trio had shown genuine remorse, but questioned how far Justice Wylie should take this into account.

Nicholls and Douglas' lawyer, Bruce Gray QC, said his clients were "ethical men" who had shown remorse.

"They have each expressed their own remorse, they have not told the court they are sorry for themselves, they are said they are sorry for their failings," Gray said.

The defence lawyer said his clients' culpability was similar or less than the convicted Nathans Finance directors, two of who were sentenced to more than two years' jail last year.

Gray said the Crown's starting points were too high and were 50 per cent more than Bridgecorp director Rod Petricevic faced.

"We say our starting point must below that of Petricevic, which at the present point is the high water mark," Gray said.

Petricevic was sentenced to six years' nine months prison earlier this year in cases brought by both the SFO and the Financial Markets Authority.

Gray said a starting point of three years in prison was appropriate.

Gray also asked the judge to consider home detention as a serious option for his clients, who deserved a discount for their age, remorse and previous good character.

Tallentire's lawyer, Nathan Gedye, said his client "feels total remorse" and is "deeply regretful and sorry for what he has done".

He said a starting point of three to three and a half years in prison was appropriate and that Tallentire deserved a discount for his remorse and previous good character.

Gedye said it would not be a stretch of "precedent or principle" for Justice Wylie to impose a sentence of home detention on his client and said community service was also an option.

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